The responsibility of spec'ing and maintaining 1,200 fleet vehicles in Virginia's Arlington County poses a number of challenges for Ric Hiller, equipment bureau chief. Not the least of his concerns is keeping the county's alternative fuel program going forward during tougher economic times.
“There's never a dull moment in this business,” says Hiller, who thrives on finding ways to keep the fleet running efficiently and cost-effectively, even in the midst of technician shortages and tighter salary constraints. “We are very proactive, environmentally speaking,” he says. “Living in a large, metropolitan area like we do, it's important to do our part to try to keep soot levels down in our fleet vehicles.”
Hiller notes that Arlington County was the first municipality on the East Coast to experiment with the use of E85 (ethanol) for its light-vehicle fleet. “We started purchasing flex-fueled vehicles in 2001 that could operate on E85 as an alternative to gasoline; then in the spring of 2002 we also began using B20 biodiesel in the county's diesel-powered school buses.”
Biodiesel is currently used in all but four buses, which are set to run on CNG (compressed natural gas). Arlington County buys buses from Thomas and IC Corp., spec'ing transit as well as conventional style school buses.
Hiller says going into the biodiesel program, engine manufacturers agreed to honor their warranties as long as any engine failures that occurred could not be attributed directly to the biodiesel and provided that the county used only virgin soy bio as opposed to biodiesel derived from used grease. “We've had no problems whatsoever,” he states.
The Arlington County fleet incorporates a variety of municipal vehicles, including refuse, dump and utility trucks, vans, and pickups, in addition to fire apparatus, school buses, police cars and motorcycles. Hiller's job involves working with the various agencies, such as Fire and Emergency, Parks and Recreation, etc., to develop equipment specs and send out bids for vehicles. He also makes recommendations to the county's purchasing agency for the award of contracts based on bids received. Vehicles acquired are then leased to the various agencies.
In addition to Toyota Prius sedans and Ford Escape SUV hybrids, the county's light-duty fleet includes Chevy Sierra and GMC Silverado hybrid pickups. “They have the advantage of being able to provide electrical service for utilizing power tools on the job site,” Hiller says, and “work out really well for the county's parks maintenance and water service department crews.”
According to Hiller, fleet equipment is scheduled for replacement based on vehicle class. “Every spring we provide the various County agencies with a list of vehicles that have come up for review and possible replacement based on vehicle age. Whether or not a vehicle gets replaced depends on its condition and miles on the odometer. A vehicle must have a minimum of 50,000 miles on it for consideration.
“Vehicles we looked at last May and June won't actually be replaced until fiscal-year 2008, which begins July 1, 2007. Since we're looking at these vehicles 18 months to two years prior to when they will physically get replaced, we have to level out the peaks and valleys in expenditures to budget appropriately.”
One of the things Hiller says the county has done this year to cut expenses in the maintenance department is to purchase six Eco 60 vehicle lifts from Fleet America Service Technology. The scissor-type lifts, he explains, require only a 34-in. pit in the ground and use just seven gallons of fuel, compared to 50 gallons for other types of in-ground, two-post lifts, making them both environmentally friendly and cost-efficient.